Coventry, England

Ghost Town by The Specials

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This place is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
Too much fighting on the dance floor Read full Lyrics
Coventry Cathedral Ruins, EnglandCoventry Cathedral Ruins, England
One definition of a genius is that the merely competent can find new art in a field everyone thought was exhausted, whereas a genius can find new art in a field that no one ever knew existed. That's the kind of funky brilliance pulled off by British ska band The Specials. You say ska is dead? Fine, we'll revive it. You say it's Jamaican? Well, we're bringing it to Britain. You say ska is too sunny and upbeat to make a song spooky enough to play for Halloween? Well, Ghost Town is so playfully spooky that Tim Burton will wish he'd had it to include in the soundtrack for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Take that!

Actually, this style is more "2 tone," the hipster word for the English blend of ska, punk rock, reggae and pop. Kind of what Sublime was trying to do, but British/Jamaican. So, okay, we're not going to let The Specials run away with all the credit for just that bit. But they're certainly one of the more important bands.

This song is about an actual area in Britain, where in the 1980s the UK was suffering a bout of unemployment which hit England's industrialized north and Midlands regions particularly hard. Coventry, which is The Specials home town, is a metropolitan borough in the county of West Midlands in England, which had unemployment in the 20% range during this time. During the summer of 1981, citizens responded to the plunging economy and widespread poverty with riots in London and Liverpool. Ghost Town reflected the mood of the country perfectly that year.

Let us divert ourselves for a moment. The Industrial and Information Ages bring a bigger scale of development. The original term "ghost town" was coined to describe mining towns which sprang up and were full of life as long as prosperity was to be had, but became abandoned and decrepit as soon as the mine puttered out. Today this happens whenever any economic boom and bust happens in any town that revolves around a particular industry: from the factories of the North American Rustbelt to the software grindhouses of Silicon Valley.
Coventry Canal in the Canal Basin, Coventry, England<br>Photo: <a href="">Snowmanradio</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA 2.5</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsCoventry Canal in the Canal Basin, Coventry, England
Photo: Snowmanradio, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
We say these places have "urban decay," become ghettos, or in the UK we call them "rotten boroughs." But as they become more of a factor in modern society, we don't really have a name for the genre which takes this as its subject matter. For a kind of high-tech urban future, we have "cyberpunk" (example: The Matrix), and for fiction set in a time when massive disasters have reduced the human population to a tiny fraction, we have "post-apocalyptic" (example: Mad Max).

Perhaps we could define the creative works dealing with the modern "ghost town" phenomenon as being "Industrial Gothic." It fits beautifully, doesn't it? So far the name is only taken by Industrial Gothic, a five-issue comic book limited series published in 1995 by Vertigo. If we borrow the term (it's too good to leave behind in '95, anyway), we see dozens of places to apply it: Stephen King and Peter Straub horror stories set in abandoned hotels and villages, some Terry Gilliam and David Lynch movies, several Twilight Zone episodes, and much more. Horror-punk bands such as The Misfits and anarcho-punk bands such as The Dead Kennedys are great for setting the mood.

Urban exploration of abandoned places is a popular fad on the Internet, so why not explore the site which started it all? Drop by and check out the photo essays made by globe-trotting photographer and adventurer Henk van Rensberge. Be sure to crank up The Specials' Ghost Town while you're at it. Now, doesn't it feel just like you've discovered a new genre?

We dare you to turn the lights off.

Pete Trbovich
July 3, 2009
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